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Rookie Curtis left holding the Jug after Bjorn collapse

7/20/2003 - Ben Curtis
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Final-round scores

SANDWICH, England -- Hardly anyone knew Ben Curtis before
the British Open.

He was a PGA Tour rookie who had never cracked the top 10. He
was No. 396 in the world ranking and a 500-1 longshot with the
British bookies. The first reaction from the local caddie hired on
the spot to guide Curtis around Royal St. George's was, ''Ben
who?''

Strangely, the answer now is British Open champion.

Surprised?

Not on the most unpredictable links in golf. Not after one of
the wackiest weeks in the game's oldest championship. Not even with
Tiger Woods and an All-Star cast in position to restore order.

''Many people are probably saying, 'Well, he doesn't really
belong there,' '' Curtis said. ''But I know I do, so that's all
that matters.''

He earned his spot in golfing lore by closing with a 2-under 69,
leaving him the only player to break par at 283.

He got plenty of help from Thomas Bjorn, who took three shots to
escape a pot bunker, dropped four shots on the final four holes and
finished as the hard-luck runner-up with Vijay Singh.

''Major championships are sometimes won out of the blue,'' Bjorn
said. ''This is one 'won out of the blue' for sure.''

The Open took a zany turn right from the start when Woods, the
world's most watched player, lost his opening tee shot in the
rough.

It ended with a player hardly anyone knew holding the Claret
Jug.

Bjorn still had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie chip
from just short of the 18th green. When the ball turned away,
caddie Andy Sutton turned to Curtis on the practice range and said,
''Ben, you're the Open champion.''

The words might not have sounded so strange had he been talking
to Hogan.

Then again, he was the perfect winner to cap the craziness that
didn't end until Curtis' name was engraved on the jug.

Some highlights:

  • Woods opened with a triple bogey when two dozen marshals and
    2,000 fans couldn't figure out where his ball was hiding.

  • Bjorn was penalized two strokes Thursday for slamming his club
    into a bunker after failing to get out -- a no-no when the ball is
    still in the sand.

  • Davis Love III hit a tee shot that was going out of bounds
    Friday until it ricocheted off a white boundary stake only 3 inches
    wide.

  • Local hero Mark Roe, who would have been paired with Woods in
    the final round two shots behind, was disqualified Saturday for
    putting his score (67) on Jesper Parnevik's card.

    The final surprise was the biggest of them all.

    Curtis is believed to be the first player since Francis Ouimet
    at the 1913 U.S. Open to win a major championship in his first try.

    ''I came in here this week just trying to play the best I could,
    hopefully make the cut and compete on the weekend,'' he said.
    ''Obviously, I did that and went out there and probably played the
    best weekend of my life.''

    The final stroke was an 8-foot par putt on the 18th, and only
    after Curtis walked off the green did he realize that Bjorn was in
    trouble three groups behind.

    All he could do was wait to see if anyone could match him.

    They all wilted.

    Woods couldn't find the fairway down the stretch and let a
    perfect opportunity to capture his ninth major title slip away.

    ''It's going to work out for somebody,'' Woods said. ''You've
    got to have things go your way in order for you to win.''

    Singh didn't make enough putts. Love was doomed by a bad start.

    That left the oldest prize in golf to a guy who never had so
    much as a top 10 finish on the PGA Tour.

    His best was two weeks ago at the Western Open, a tie for 13th
    that allowed him to qualify for his first major championship.

    When he started the final round just two shots out of the lead,
    no one gave him a chance, not against this lineup.

    In the end, no one played better on the canted, lunarlike links
    of Royal St. George's.

    ''I don't know anything about Ben,'' Love said. ''But when the
    golf course plays like this, and when it's that fine a line between
    a good shot and a bad shot, these things can happen.''

    There have been other surprises in the majors.

    Paul Lawrie won at Carnoustie four years ago when Jean Van de
    Velde collapsed on the final hole; John Daly won the '91 PGA
    Championship as the ninth alternate; Jack Fleck beat Hogan in a
    playoff in the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

    Still, this ranks among the greatest shockers of all.

    Ouimet was a 20-year-old who beat the greatest golfers of his
    time, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff outside Boston in
    1913, a victory that made golf popular in America.

    This one will give hope to underdogs around the world.

    Bjorn's sloppy finish, especially the bunker shots on No. 16,
    dropped him to a 72 and into a tie for second with Singh at
    even-par 284.

    Another stroke back was Woods, who bogeyed two of his final four
    holes for a 71, and Love, who missed two crucial birdie putts down
    the stretch for a 72.

    Curtis broke down briefly when he tried to thank his family and
    fiance.

    ''I know the names that are on the trophy,'' he said. ''I'm in
    great company.''

    Until this week, Curtis was mostly known for being a two-time
    Ohio State Amateur champion, along with Arnold Palmer and John
    Cook.

    Not anymore.

    He earned more than $1.1 million. He has his PGA Tour card for
    the next five years, is exempt to the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA
    Championship for five years and can play the British Open until he
    is 65.

    Call him a surprise winner, but he earned it.

    ''Now, when my name is up on the scoreboard, I will feel like I
    belong,'' Curtis said. ''This is the grandest tournament of all.
    I'm very fortunate to be a winner with all the great names on that
    trophy -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones.''

    Equally impressive: The guys he beat on a sun-baked afternoon.

    No one felt the sting more than Bjorn.

    A short birdie on the par-5 14th gave him a two-stroke lead at 4
    under par, with Curtis three groups ahead and leaking oil.

    Bjorn found a pot bunker off the tee and made bogey. His tee
    shot right of the pin on the par-3 16th -- the one place not to go --
    caught the ridge and dropped into the bunker.

    He blasted out over the lip, but the ball returned down the
    slope and into the sand. Another blast, same result. Bjorn finally
    got it out and made double bogey.

    ''I certainly feel like I deserve a little bit more than I got
    this week,'' Bjorn said. ''That's the way it is. You go on. But I'm
    sure it's going to be tough the next few days.''

    Woods is now winless in the last five majors, although this was
    his best chance.

    Despite missing fairways and greens, he was in great position
    when Bjorn and Curtis started giving back strokes. It ended when he
    came up short of the 17th green, ran his chip 12 feet by and missed
    the par putt.

    ''I put myself where I needed to be,'' Woods said. ''I just
    didn't make the putts.''

    Curtis showed them all how to get it done.